Thursday, 27 October 2011

Explore Lexical Relationships

Graph Words is one of those websites like Wordle that seems, because of its simplicity, like a gift from the heavens for English language teachers.

Graph Words is a visual thesaurus that it is really simple to use. You just type in the word you want to explore and click on 'Draw'.

You will then see a colour coordinated web of word relationships. You can then click on any word within the web to explore the relationships to that word and so on. If you hover your mouse over the 'nodes' that connect the words you can also get a definition for the word relationship.

One of the great things about the site is that you can save each web as an image with a single click, so you can use the images in your teaching materials. The site also works well on mobile devices such as iPads /iPhones etc. and you can also drag and arrange the related words to regroup them.

What I like about it
  • Clear, colourful, free and simple
  • Great to be able to save the images so easily
  • Dragging and rearranging words should work well on an IWB
  • Nice way to explore word relationships
  • Great that it is built on html5 not Flash, so it works on Apple mobile devices.

Some ideas for using Graph Words for English teaching
  • Give students a text and get them to see how many words they can change and substitute in new words
  • Give students two words and get the students to try to find the words that connected the first word to the second (like 6 degrees of seperation)
  • Get students to include a word graph with vocab records of new words they are learning or words the are revising.
  • Create word graphs and hide the central word. See if students can guess the hidden word.
  • Get students to try to predict related words then create a word graph to see how many they got right.
I hope you and your students enjoy using Word Graph and if you think of other ways to use it, please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Instant back channel chat room

I've been using back channels in my training and conference work for quite a while now and I'm getting to the stage where I wonder how I ever got by without them.

A back channel a means of enabling text based collaboration among the people in your class / talk and this is usually done by using some form of chat room that people attending the class can log into during the session.

There are a lot of advantages to this:
  • It facilitates greater participation and knowledge sharing. Participants are able to share what they know with each other on the topic you are talking about.
  • You can use it as an audience response tool get students to write in and share their responses. 
  • You can pass links to websites that students can then just click and open, so you don't have students trying to type or copy long URLs. 
  • You can also pass links to worksheets that students can download.
  • The back channel is a great tool for students to base their notes from the session on. they just need to copy the interaction and all the links into a file.

 My main tool has been TodaysMeet, but I have recently discovered a new one that could be worth trying.

It's called SimpleMeet.Me and it was designed for meeting collaboration. It has an advantage over TodaysMeet in that you can upload and share a document through it. So this could be useful for sharing your presentation or the aims of the class etc.

It's very simple to use, just go to and the site instantly produces the chat room for you and gives you a code to share. You then simply tell your students what the code is and they can go to the site and join the meeting.


Once you are in the meeting you put in your name at the top and can then start to chat at the bottom. Your shared file appears bottom right (I've uploaded my CV as an example). You can have a look in the chat room I've created here

Another nice feature of SimpleMeet.Me is that you can just enter your email address at the end of the chat and get a transcription of the complete discourse sent to you.

If you work in a computer lab or wireless environment and you want to encourage your students to bring along laptops and mobile devices and participate in your lessons, then SimpleMeet.Me is a really useful tool. Personally, I have found that using a back channel in this way has transformed the way I teach and enabled me to completely do away with using any kind of paper handouts in class - so no more photocopying. It's also reduced the amount of wasted time struggling with students misspelling URLs and increased engagement during the classes. Of course the catch is that you have to work in an environment where your students have access to the Internet in class.

I hope you give this a try and your students enjoy it.

Related links: 

Nik Peachey

Friday, 21 October 2011

Create Online Social Interaction Around Videos

YouTube continues to be the biggest and one of the most useful video resources on the Internet, but creating online tasks and interaction with YouTube videos can be complex and time consuming, that's why it's always great to come across really useful sites like Grockit.

Grockit provides a really simple and fast way to build social tasks and interaction around any video from YouTube and it does it in a way that is much more suitable for delivery to students, as the interface removes many of the distractions that a direct link to YouTube would include.

Here's a quick example to show you what I mean: Married Life

Creating a Grockit
Creating an activity is very quick and easy though you will need to register and sign in (and so will your students).

Grockit starts with a simple field that you can use to either search for a video using key words or if you already have a video in mind you can just enter the URL.

Once you see your video in the search results you can click to make either a public or private Q&A.
Your video will then appear framed on the page and you just need to add a few questions to get things started. You type these into the field on the top left of your screen.  If you play through the video and pause at specific moments, the question will appear at that point in the video.

The last thing you need to do is to share the video by clicking on the 'Share this page' button. This will give you a URL that you can share with your students.

Then when students play the video the questions will appear below it as they watch. They will be able to answer the questions and add their own.

Lastly, as a bonus if you click on 'Moderate Q&A on this video' at the bottom of the page, you can create play lists, moderate submissions to the Q&A and even get an embed code to add the tasks to other materials.

All really simple and done in just a few minutes. Of course the difficult part is getting the right video and choosing good questions.

What I like about it
  • This is a great way to create interaction around a video clip
  • It's really quick and easy to create a task
  • Students can access it from home or anywhere else
  • Students can add their own questions
  • Great to time questions to specific points in the video
  • It's a nice clean interface with few distractions
  • You can set up your own playlists and moderate them
  • It even has an embed code to add the tasks to other materials

Grockit is a great free tool for creating online interaction that's social and communicative. I hope you enjoy using it and create lots of useful activities for your students.

Related links:

Nik Peachey

Friday, 14 October 2011

Creating Texting Dialogues for Students

As mobile phone use becomes ubiquitous around the world and texting becomes a new genre of communication, it seems increasingly important that we as language teachers engage with these devices and help students to deal with the impact they are having on the English language.

Some time ago I wrote about a texting language translater called Transl8it which enabled users to trans late short texts from standard English to something approaching sms texting language.  Since then I've used the site quite a lot to:

  • Translate text for using in chat rooms such as TodaysMeet
  • Translate poems and short dialogues into texting language for students to read
  • Translate news headlines.
  • I've also tried getting students to record example sentences of vocabulary into texting language, just to add an extra element to creating vocabulary records.

Recently, I have also found a handy tool called ifaketext and this enables you to create a picture of a smartphone screen with your dialogue on. Here's an example:

This is a great way to create materials to use with students, especially if we combine it with the Transl8it. Then I can make dialogues that look like this:

All we need to do to create the dialogues is go to: and type in a dialogue. Be sure to put a name at the top and format the dialogue with the name of each speaker followed by a colon (:) then the dialogue. Then just click on 'Create Your Screenshot'.

Once the screen shot is created you get a number of options for adding it to materials. You can either get a code to embed it or a direct link to the image and you can save it from there and add it to you documents.

Here are a few ways you could use this with students:
  • Convert dialogues from their coursebook into texting language.
  • Create mysterious interactions and get them to predict the context.
  • Create dialogues and get students to guess the relationship between the people.
  • Create the beginnings of dialogues and get the students to continue them.
  • Create dialogues with missing lines / words and get the students to complete them.
  • Create dialogues with the responses in the wrong order and get students to arrange them correctly.
This is one small way that we can start to adapt materials and incorporate this kind of language into a our classroom. I hope you and your students enjoy using ifaketext and transl8it and you create some interesting and motivating materials for them.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Friday, 7 October 2011

Can you replace your IWB with a $10 dollar app?

Idea Flight Enterprise is a new idea that makes a first attempt at using iPads to replace both the expensive IWB and the data projectors in your classroom.

In many ways it's a great idea that centres around using a $10 (£7)  iPad (Pilot) app to share materials and interact with a classroom full of students.

Students will also need iPads and to download a free (passenger) app so that they can view the lesson materials and make notes on them.

The 'pilot' or teacher can open their PDF course materials and take students through them page by page in step allowing students to make notes on the materials as they go. They can also 'unlock' the materials which will allow students to move backwards or forwards through the materials independently at their own pace.

The Idea Flight Enterprise app ensures that the teacher and students are all seeing the same materials and so this negates the necessity for both IWB and data projector (Though it is possible to plug the iPad into a data projector too if you require that)

The app runs through either the wireless connection (with up to 14 students) or through connecting the iPads by Bluetooth (with up to 3 students).

This looks like it could be a really good product for schools with small classes / classrooms, especially those teaching business English or very modern schools who want to experiment with class sets of iPads.

What I like about Idea Flight
  • Assuming that students already have iPads, buying a $10 app could save you the price of both a data projector and an IWB.
  • It would be ideal for teaching small classes or one to one classes off-site, especially when there is no internet connection as you can connect through bluetooth.
  • It synchronizes with your DropBox public folder so it's easy to upload your materials if you have a free account.
  • It allows schools to create their own course materials using PPT, Keynote or Word and publish them as eBooks in PDF format for their students.
  • Students can make notes on the materials and then store their own copy.
  • Running materials through iPads rather than desktop or laptops enables your students to still be pretty mobile within the classroom, so you can still easily move them around and regroup them for discussion and human interaction within the classroom.
  • The app has 'Linkedin' integration so new students can see each others profiles etc and find out about one another more easily, so this also makes it a great networking tool.

What I wasn't so sure about
  • In the PDF materials I used in the app, all the hyperlinks were dead, so it would be nice if linking out to other materials were possible through the app.
  • The app only runs on iPad which makes it a bit restrictive. It would be nice to see integration with the web, so that students with laptops or other tablets could also be included in the same class.
  • I didn't try the app with video embedded into PDF so it would be nice to know if that worked, but I'm assuming it's unlikely.
  • Classes of 15 students on wireless or 3 on bluetooth, make the use of this app pretty much restricted to private or very privileged classrooms, so it would be nice to see greater numbers of students made possible.
  • It would be really good if a broader range of formats could be imported into the app. At present, any animations or effects that can be created with presentation software are lost when the materials are exported to PDF.

Despite some of the weaknesses of this Idea Flight Enterprise, I still think it's a massive step in the right direction towards enabling greater use of these kinds of devices in the classroom and, at $10, making that step an economical choice and one that is a better fit for an interactive communicative classroom than something like and IWB and data projector.

If you are thinking of introducing iPads within your school environment, and especially if you are developing your courses and course materials in-house, then I definitely think Idea Flight Enterprise is worth investigating.

Here's their short promotional video showing how it works.

This is an independent review that was written at the request of one of my sponsors - Idea Flight Enterprise - What I have written was in no way influenced or edited by them.

I hope you find it useful.

Related Links:

Nik Peachey